Israeli leaders reacted strongly this week to news of a deal that will see sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a scaling back of its nuclear program.
“What was agreed to last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting. “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
Netanyahu has long been one of the world’s most vocal opponents to any deal that would allow the Islamic republic to continue its nuclear program, which Israel considers an existential threat.
“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu added. “Israel is not obligated by this agreement. I want to make clear we will not allow Iran to obtain military nuclear capability.”
Israel argues that sanctions relief will do little to encourage Iran to stonewall its nuclear ambitions, and strongly enforces its right to a military option if the Jewish state’s security is threatened.
“The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres. “I would like to say to the Iranian people, you are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles.”
“Israel, like others in the international community, prefers a diplomatic solution. But I want to remind everyone of what President Obama said, and what I have personally heard from other leaders. The international community will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. And if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse.”
That sentiment was echoed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who spoke with Israel Radio shortly after the deal was announced.
“As always, all options are on the table,” he said. “Israel must look into new directions in addition to the US. We must take responsibility regardless of the stance of the Americans or of others. We must make our own independent decisions.”
And Finance Minister Yair Lapid told IDF Radio: “We had a choice here between the plague and cholera. We were left alone explaining the truth, and all of our options were bad…I don’t understand how the French foreign minister can call an agreement that doesn’t involve the dismantling of one centrifuge a ‘victory.’ I can’t understand the world’s failure to notice the 19,000 Iranian centrifuges.”
“Obviously a deal is better than a war, but not this deal,” Lapid said. “Netanyahu did everything he could and we all stand behind him on this.”
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Ynet, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us but the entire world.”
Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett was more sensational in his response, posting to his Facebook page: “If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning. Israel will not be committed to a deal that endangers its very existence.”
This solidarity among Israel’s ministers is unique, as the Knesset is often characterized by its lively debates, with leaders regularly taking at-odds stances on domestic and world issues.